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Thursday, October 18, 2007: The Crud is winning and Travel Bear Q&A
Yesterday we managed to get 6 flights stuck in the ice and, after dumping 40 some gallons of hot water down the hole, we finally gave up on the stuck bit. I'm not sure we explained why we are trying to make other holes. To use our short baseline positioning system,we need three transducers in the water separated by at least a few Meters. The system works by having three wired, through the ice transducers connected to a processor box. Then, a battery powered transponder goes on the ROV or diver and a combination of hardware and software time the ping returns and use triangulation to determine position underwater. Too bad we can't just use GPS underwater but a GPS signal only travels a few mm through water.

I spend most of the day in the lab working on another microprocessor board for SCINI as a spare. Since we aren't in production, everything is hand wired.


I was getting over my Crud but after the last few nights late on the ice, it's gotten much worse. I take a nap in the afternoon then go to Scott Base.

I'm not sure the pictures of McMurdo convey just how industrial looking this place is. I hadn't thought about it for a while until we visited Scott Base and it looks so much more hospitable.

Some excellent views from Scott Base:

I received some excellent questions from Perkiomen Valley School District about Travel Bear (TB). Here's Travel Bear on the sea ice with a wind chill of -50 F.

1. How long will TB be in Antarctica?
Travel Bear will be in Antarctica until Nov. 16th. We'll be deploying to a Remote Field Camp for 10 days in the Dry Valleys which is in the Antarctic Specially Managed Area (ASMA). This means we have to be extremely careful not to contaminate anything there. Read some really interesting facts here.
2.Have you seen penguins or seals?
I have not seen any penguins but I have seen and even swam with Weddell seals! We didn't have a functioning underwater camera so I didn't get any pictures under water but you can see some pictures from the surface here.
3.Are there any snow dogs there?
There are no dogs here now and different bases banned dogs at different times. They used to have dogs here but there were concerns that the dogs might transfer diseases to the seals. Scott Base used dogs into the '80s - see a picture of them here.
4. Are you having a good time?
I am having a great time! This is certainly the opportunity of a lifetime and you should experience it if you can. There are many ways to earn a trip here - even as a kid. Since the 1970s, the National Science Foundation has brought a Boy Scout each year to visit the United States Antarctic Program. Now the Boy Scouts alternate years with Girl Scouts. This link details the various ways to get here.
5. Is TB having fun and being good?
Travel Bear is really enjoying the scenery and is generally being good. I had to give him a time out the other day when he tried to sneak a dive in my dry suit. He really wants to dive but he doesn't have the qualifications.

And some more excellent questions:

o What do you use to cover your noses and mouths to keep them from freezing, but still allow you to breathe in the sub-zero temps?

We were issued a neck collar which we pull up over our noses. If you keep your nose in for too long ice builds up and you have to rotate the collar a bit.

o Did you opt for the snow wall, igloo, ditch or ice sculpture for your overnight shelter during your training? How long did it take you to build?
I wanted to try a 2 person snow trench so I found another guy Derek willing to dig and we started digging. We sawed, chipped and shoveled the very densely packed snow for about 6 hours to make our shelter. It worked very well and it was warmer in the trench but we were both still cold.

The trench has two shelves on each side and is covered with big blocks of ice. We block ourselves in with one big block to keep out the howling wind.

My trenchmate Derek

o I assume you use the melted snow for your drinking water? How much treatment does it require to make it potable?
You start with a little bit of water in the pan (burnt snow or minerals in the pot taste bad) and just dump in some snow. The air is very pure here so the snow is drinkable when melted.

o About the "frozen electronics" problem: is there any way to cobble together some flexible thermal gel packs with some duct tape to make an attractive camera (or gps, etc.) cozy that can be stored next to the body?

To keep anything electronic operating you have to keep the batteries warm. I have a camera small enough I carefully put in an inside pocket to keep warm. To take a picture I have to undo Big Red, unzip my wind pants, remove my outer glove, grab the camera and take some pictures until the camera stops working. This can be a few minutes or more depending on conditions. A few times the camera stopped working it actually had ice on it from moisture in my glove liners. So far, 10 minutes inside a warm pocket and it's ok again. Having to go through all this is one reason I'm not taking my usual hundreds of pictures. I've tried the pocket warmers and they seem to help a little but not much.

oo What sort of materials are your clothing/survival gear made out of?

Our Big Red is made with lots of goose down and a windproof nylon shell. It's the one piece of ECW gear you cannot be without and you get so used to having certain things (gloves, neck collar, hats, water bottle) in certain pockets it feels funny not wearing it on warmer days. Everything else is synthetic as we learned "cotton kills" since it holds sweat. We wear layers and are constantly adjusting as we go from various temperatures. Some days we are just going from building to building so you can wear anything and be ok. Our lab is at the end of Crary Lab so it can be chilly (50) inside. Things are warming up here and our minimum temperature was -26 F this month with a max of 14 F. Interestingly enough, the monthly low occurred while we were out camping on the ice where it is both colder and much more windy then recorded at McMurdo.

How do you clean them?

My wife will be amazed but
I wash everything - together. In our dorms we have washers and dryers just like home.

oo How's the food there? Are you able to get anything fresh, or is everything canned, boxed and frozen? Are there special dietary issues related to the cold and harsh conditions (eg everyone has to increase Vitamin D consumption)?

I think the food is quite good. We do get some fresh fruit in now and then and we usually have a very nice variety of foods to choose from. There is always a vegetarian dish available as well which are usually yummy. I usually have a little bit of everything. I have to find the bakers and thank them - they do an outstanding job with excellent breads, muffins and pastries. The thing everyone notices is the more you are out in the cold the more you eat. Some days we were eating huge meals - way more then I could possibly eat normally. We have lots of daylight here so we get plenty of Vitamin D but most everyone supplements with Vitamin C.

oo How much sunlight is available? Are full-spectrum bulbs used? Is depression a problem?

It's summer here and the length of day is now 21 hours 52 minutes, which means we have lots of light even at night. Depression can be a problem here even in the sumer season but it has more to do with such an abrupt change in social routines or lack of them. During the winter there is no light other then the very bright stars, moon and stunning Aurora (awesome pictures from nearby Scott Base). I have noticed full spectrum bulbs in common areas like the galley.

oo I had asked about the water treatement at the base station, but what do you do for water in the field? Any unusual water conservation practices there (eg, gray water used to flush toilets, etc.) ?

For water in the field we melt snow. I don't know about all field camps, but generally all waste is brought back to McMurdo. We will be setting up a remote field camp in New Harbor in the Dry Valleys. The entire Dry Valley area is in ASMA (described in #1 above) where special precautions are necessary. Nothing is allowed on the pristine ground there including urine and even snot (no farmer blows). We even have to disinfect our boots so we don't contaminate the soil there.

oo Speaking of toilets, what do you have to do to answer the call of nature in the field? Do the women use female urinals to limit their exposure time? How do you clean your hands afterward?

We use Pee bottles - men and woman - read this for Nick's funny Pee bottle story. We can't use alcohol sanitizers as they can cause instant frostbite like the fuel that got Mindy. For more serious bathroom business we have a seat over a bag - and you don't dawdle and read the paper while sitting there!

oo What amenities do you miss most from home? What do you do for entertainment there (or is there any time for entertainment)?

I miss my wife and kids the most! Amenities? I guess I miss fast internet and easy phone calls. We haven't had much time to relax other then some time before bed. So far I watched The Thing and Life Aquatic - both appropriate for our work here. I went bowling one "night" and there seems to be lots of things to do including some odd ones like pottery as well as exercise programs and various social gatherings like “How to Listen to and Understand Opera”.

Keep the questions coming!

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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ANT-0619622 ( Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.